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WASHINGTON (AP) – The United States announced Friday that it is pulling out of a landmark nuclear arms treaty with Russia, arguing that it should not be constrained by a deal Moscow is violating with “impunity” by deploying banned missiles.
President Donald Trump repeated a yearslong U.S. accusation that Russia secretly developed and deployed “a prohibited missile system that poses a direct threat to our allies and troops abroad.” He said the U.S. had adhered to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty since it was signed in 1987, but Russia had not.
“We cannot be the only country in the world unilaterally bound by this treaty, or any other,” Mr. Trump said in a written statement.
The decision reflects the Trump administration’s view that the arms treaty was an unacceptable obstacle to more forcefully confronting not only Russia but also China. China’s military has grown mightily since the treaty was signed, and the pact has prevented the U.S. from deploying weapons to counter those being developed in Beijing.
Pulling the plug on the INF pact, however, risks aggravating relations with European allies, who share the administration’s view that Russia is violating the treaty but who have not endorsed a U.S. withdrawal.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking to reporters after Mr. Trump’s statement, said Russia will be formally notified on Saturday that the U.S. is withdrawing from the treaty, effective in six months. In the meantime, starting Saturday, the U.S. will suspend its obligations under the treaty.
Mr. Pompeo said that if, in the coming six months, Russia accepts U.S. demands that it verifiably destroy the cruise missiles that Washington claims are a violation, then the treaty can be saved. If it does not, “the treaty terminates,” he said.
Administration officials have dismissed concerns that the treaty’s demise could trigger a race to develop and deploy more intermediate-range missiles. U.S. officials have emphasized their fear that China, which is not party to the treaty, is gaining a significant military advantage in Asia by deploying large numbers of missiles with ranges beyond the treaty’s limit. Whether the U.S. will now respond by deploying INF noncompliant missiles in Asia is unclear. In any case, it seems unlikely Beijing would agree to any negotiated limits on its weaponry.
Russia accused the U.S. of unilaterally seeking to neuter the treaty and of resisting Russian attempts to resolve the dispute.
INF was the first arms control measure to ban an entire class of weapons: ground-launched cruise missiles with a range between 310 miles and 3,400 miles. At the time, in the late stages of the Cold War, the U.S. and its allies were mainly concerned by the perceived threat of Russian medium-range nuclear missiles that were targeted at Europe. The U.S. deployed similar missiles in response, in the 1980s, leading to negotiations that produced the INF treaty.